Five Questions to Ask

“Many people are good at talking about what they are doing, but in fact do little. Others do a lot but don’t talk about it; they are the ones who make a community live.” ― Jean Vanier

How to Stop Yourself from Talking Too Much (According to 13 Experts)

I’m doing it again. In the rain this week, dodging mud puddles, I realized I had spent a wonderful casual meeting with a colleague with me doing almost all of the talking. It’s as if I switch over to hostage mode and start blabbing without being able to stop!

So here’s my new strategy. Instead of bemoaning my bad behavior and feeling awful in hindsight, I’m going to do something intentional at all my social interactions. I’m going to make certain that I ask at least five questions first. Then, and only then, am I allowed to slide into my confessional over-talking. I just tried it out with a friend at lunch. I think it worked. Of course, she had an agenda that she wanted to talk about. She’s always very deliberative like that. Keeps me from taking over. I’m anxious to try it out again.

“Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, Mr. Worthing. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me quite nervous.” ― Oscar Wilde

When you’re asking five questions, maybe these simple rules will help:

  • Each question must demonstrate genuine interest in the other person.
  • Questions should be connected – because you are really listening.
  • Questions and body language have to match – if you’re not looking, you’re not really interested.
  • The purpose of these questions is keep you from doing all the talking – especially if you’re like me these days and tend to start blabbing like a three-year-old telling on her big brother – so don’t turn your question into a sermon!

“You cannot truly listen to anyone and do anything else at the same time.” ― M. Scott Peck

38,800+ Two Old Men Talking Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock | Two old men talking silhouette

“You’re short on ears and long on mouth.” ― John Wayne

These five questions aren’t what we like to call “conversation starters.” Those are usually sort of shallow and are shared between people who are unfamiliar. These are like doorways you are establishing to allow someone else to be engaged and to keep you from accidentally dominating.

Think about this:

  • How about a follow up question to an ongoing discussion or event?
  • You could always refer back to previous conversations and ask a follow up.
  • Asking for clarification is an excellent strategy to demonstrate that you really are listening.
  • Has something happened in the world that you’d like to get this person’s perspective about?
  • Valuing someone’s opinion about a problem or situation means you’re going to have to listen when you ask (and stop explaining or clarifying).

I left lunch today feeling so much better about that interaction because I had been deliberate about listening. For me, right now, I’m going to have to be like this. What about you? Research tells us that your spouse can be a fairly accurate judge of listening skills and practices.  They are sort of the expert on you right now.

“Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools.” ― Philip K. Dick

I now need to work on simple and short answers to casual questions that people ask in passing. I notice that I’m divulging way too many details. The poor person at the door is getting this panicked look in his face. “Is this going to be on the test?” People are genuinely interested, they just don’t have the time or emotional investment to hear that much.

Keep growing up

You’d think by this age in life I would have all of this down by heart. New situations in life have knocked me off balance. I can’t find the railing as easily as I once did. Hasn’t that ever happened to you?  Life changes can cause new needs in life. We read about aging parents who have had to suddenly change their living situation, lose a spouse or a debilitating medical crisis suddenly strikes. So often, people in these situations spiral quickly toward their end. There are many explanations, one important one is an inability to adjust and compensate.

42,800+ Measuring Child Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images - iStock | Measuring child height, Parent measuring child height, Parent measuring child

Is there a big lesson here? Keep learning and transforming. Don’t stop thinking about what’s happening to you and how you can keep growing up. I’m watching my five-year-old grandson grow taller and taller. I want him to one day be able to say that he could also see that I too was growing and changing, as I should be.

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. ” ― Donald Miller

2 thoughts on “Five Questions to Ask

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